Storm chaser

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Jeff Norman, a certified life surf instructor, gives lessons at White Point Lodge beach and beyond.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Rather than trying to compete with surf equipment available on-line, Rossignol Surf Shop&#8217;s retail end focuses on offering souvenir t-shirts and Nova Scotian crafts.</p>

As many of us anxiously await the next hurricane season, at least one Queens county business person is eagerly anticipating its arrival.

The devastation of Irmas and Josés aside, surfers know some of the best waves on the water are connected to bad weather.

"Summer is not the time for big surf, because you don't have the big storms," Jeff Norman, owner of Rossignol Surf Shop, told LighthouseNOW.

"You get these lows. You get hurricanes coming up the the coast. Now's the time."

The South Shore physical education teacher has floated his seasonal business on his passion for surfing, channelling it into a wave of clients that come from White Point Lodge, where the business is now based.

Following along with the lodge's ebbs and flows has not always kept him on a crest of success - his business shared in White Point's struggle to rebuild after the fire there, for example.

But Norman, who as well as being a teacher is a certified life guard and surf instructor, has no doubt White Point is what keeps his business afloat.

"If White Point wasn't here, I wouldn't have a business. That's just reality. There's not enough people here," he says.

Norman started surfing as a teenager, working as a lifeguard on the local beaches and later the Coast Guard.

He began the surfing business "as a hobby."

"It wasn't a planned business."

At the time, he was following in his father's footsteps with an insurance business. The previous owners of The Quarterdeck restaurant suggested he get some surf gear and kayaks, "'and work with us and provide some activities for our clientele,'" recalls Norman.

So he hired a friend who worked at it for him for the summers, while he continued with his insurance business.

In 1998 he moved the sports business to the back of his insurance shop on Main Street in Liverpool, selling surf and skate boards along with the kayak tours.

He later got a few surf boards and started off giving lessons in Summerville.

Having decided he wanted out of insurance, Norman sold that business and taught school for the next 12 years or so and managed the surf shop during the summers.

Approximately 12 years ago, he began discussions with White Point

"Me providing a service to guests and them providing a location," he explained.

At the time he had been active with the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia, TIANS.

"We were all involved in that. And it was all about partnership. You provide this, the other person provides this. You work together and provide something to do." .

Norman struck a deal with the lodge whereby he outfitted and ran the retail and rental shop with surf and boogie boards, wet suits and other equipment, while the White Point administration processed the lessons and tour bookings.

Running from May to October, the business hasn't looked back since.

"We looked at what really brought the money in, and it was surf lessons and rentals and being here at the beach. It wasn't in being on Main Street in Liverpool and trying to sell stuff. It just doesn't happen," he commented, referring to the limitations of a small town and the fact that the Bowater mill had closed.

"My friends who own surf shops in Halifax and other places in the States, they have lot of people. They run businesses, and they have a big retail shop and they do it. But we do not have the people."

While Norman says his reputation draws clients, and at least one tour company is bringing in business on a weekly basis, the buoyancy in his numbers come from White Point. But he's quick to note it's a win-win situation.

"Now what's going on is a lot of people come to White Point. They come to stay here to take a surf lesson."

Recognizing the lessons are attracting clients, he says White Point itself promotes them, saving him on marketing costs.

"We do two sets of lessons a day, average of, I'd say, four people a lesson, so eight people a day running through."

Adult clients pay $85 for a two-hour lesson, with instruction, and board and wet suit rental included.

Rossignol also runs youth surf camps through the lodge. Clients for these are mostly youths from the South Shore, but have come from Publico through to Chester, and other parts of North America.

For $200 they get two lessons a week for eight weeks, along with the equipment rental.

While Norman says it's a "great deal for the youths," he admits it's not an earner for his business.

"That one is to get the youth involved in surfing."

Rossignol's clients range in age from nine to 70 years old, according to Norman, with the majority of them women.

"I think some of the men just think they know how to do it. Not going to take a lesson, they're just going to get the gear and go. "

Women tend to come in groups of friends, he says.

"They'll come for the day, for the afternoon. They'll go take a surf lesson and have fun."

He no longer retails a lot of sports equipment and clothing.

"You can buy it online. What I sell in here is souvenir t-shirts from our shop and unique crafts from Nova Scotia.

Nor does he offer kayak tours any longer.

"I myself and another person, two certified guides, did kayak tours and other people ran this for me," he says sweeping his arm in the direction of the retail and rental shop. "I did Lockeport, Port Mouton and Port Joli doing tours, plus running this.

"It's different when you're younger. You can do that. It became too much."

Rossignol Surf Shop started off with three full-time employees, but that number gradually whittled down to himself, one full-time person and a part-time employee as Norman became more hands-on with the business.

Having spent the last four school years teaching abroad, for the moment Norman is happy just to concentrate on enjoying the best of the surfing season.

He notes that modern technology allows surfers to track the storms live, through The Weather Network, wave modules, and the surfers' info website magicseaweed.com.

"They can predict what's coming in the next week. So you track it and you know when the waves are coming," he says.

"You live for the waves," adds Norman. "And you can do it your whole life."

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